Four Door Adrenaline On and Off Road

2001 Explorer Sport Trac 4x4
by PickupTruck.Com Staff

In 1996, at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Ford unveiled the Adrenalin concept truck. Built to gauge consumer reaction to a compact, four door pickup, the public's response to the stylish Adrenalin was so overwhelming that Ford gave the go-ahead on the vehicle.

"It was such a runaway hit, we actually had to pull it off the show circuit because we were afraid the competition would see the crowds gathering around and react with a version of their own," said Jim O'Connor, President, Ford Division.

As the Adrenalin design matured for production, so did its place in Ford's vast truck portfolio.

Ford's consumer research indicated that a number of SUV owners, specifically those with Explorers, were looking for a vehicle with a little more versatility than the trucks they were currently driving. Translation: SUV owners wanted a truck they could comfortably sit four people in but still use for 'dirty' tasks - like running to the plant nursery or hauling muddy mountain bikes - and mucking up the interior of their SUVs for these tasks was unacceptable.

After all the research Ford decided to move the Ranger-based Adrenalin concept to the Explorer side-of-the-house for production. Taking advantage of the Explorer's better name recognition over the relatively less popular Ranger pickup, and also basing the chassis on the Explorer's, the Adrenalin-inspired 2001 Explorer Sport Trac made its debut in 1999 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Ford has done two things different from its competitors with the Explorer Sport Trac. Officially categorizing the Sport Trac an SUV when the rest of the pack considers their competing vehicles four door pickups, the Sport Trac's stout looks are also unique. Competitor's four door trucks are derivatively styled from two door pickups like the Dodge Dakota Quad Cab and Nissan Frontier Crew Cab.

Inside & Out

The interior of the Explorer Sport Trac is comfortable and well designed.

Starting with the dashboard area, the instrument panel is nice and clean with trendy black on white gauges.

Aside from push buttons on the stereo and on the steering wheel for cruise control, just about all the other control surfaces on the dash are twist dials. The excellent heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls especially stand out with all functions condensed into three simple dials. Nice.

A nifty Sport Trac option is the rear power window controlled by a 'push-button dial' just to the left of the radio. Twist the knob left or right to open or close the window or push it once to open the window about two inches for venting. Only one gripe about the window -- it only can be set in three positions: fully closed, fully open, and two inches open.

Our Sport Trac came with the standard single CD AM/FM stereo but if you can afford the option order the new six CD in-dash premium sound system.

The Explorer Sport Trac is able to accommodate up to five adults, though it can be a squeeze depending on how big the adults are in the back seat.

Cloth seating up front and in the rear included power controls for the driver. Rear passengers will enjoy the room offered in the back of the cab and the split-folding seats recline at a reasonable angle, critical for long trips in the Sport Trac. The rear seats can be folded forward to provide additional storage. Just behind the rear seats is an additional bin for storage and another bin containing emergency road side tools. If you have a baby seat the Sport Trac also includes hidden anchor hooks to secure the seat firmly in place.

Between the driver and passenger seats, located under the folding armrest, is a removable storage bag.

The floor surface of the Sport Trac is made with a composite rubber material. Quite easy to clean after tracking dirt in the truck, the floors are also covered with very cool Berber mats. It's funny how removing carpeted floors from trucks these days seems to push them upmarket in the eyes of consumers.

On the outside our harvest gold color Sport Trac sure did look like a pickup truck.

The grille on the Sport Trac is shared only with the Explorer Sport two door SUV. It lends a more aggressive fascia when compared to the Ford Ranger's front end.

Beefy fender flares add character to the truck's personality and give the appearance of greater width.

A profile shot of the Sport Trac reveals the thought Ford put into the rear passenger area. The back of the curvilinear cabin blends nicely into the bed that slightly surrounds it. If you compare the Sport Trac to its competitors, say the Nissan Frontier, you will notice the dramatic difference in how much more room the Ford has past the B-pillar. The Sport Trac is actually much closer in appearance to Nissan's SUT concept truck than the Frontier.

The bed on the Sport Trac is different from most of the beds found on trucks today. It's very small, though Ford manages to make the most of it. At only 50 inches long the bed's volume is enhanced by making it 19.7 inches deep providing 29.6 cubic feet of volume. The Sport Trac is also the first truck in the industry to use an all composite bed made from sheet molded composite (SMC) plastic. The composite bed realizes a 20% savings in weight over a conventional bed which helps with fuel economy and ensures it will never rust.

Inside the bed are four tie down hooks that look like bottle openers and a 12-volt power port. On the outside rail of the bed are six more robust tie down hooks, similar in design to what you might find when docking a boat.

If you need a longer bed to carry, say, some plywood Ford offers an optional $200 aluminum bed extender that quickly snaps into place. The bed extender pivots around a 180-degree angle to either secure itself on the tailgate or store within the bed. It does take up a fair amount of room when not in use.

During our test of the Sport Trac its bed proved quite up to the task of a manure run at the local Home Depot where we fit approximately 20 bags in the truck with room to spare.

On (and Off) the Road

Under the Explorer Sport Trac's power bulge hood was Ford's excellent 4.0-liter single overhead cam (SOHC) V-6. The 205 horsepower engine was more than enough to move the Sport Trac on or off the road even though our test truck weighed in at a somewhat portly 4,400 pounds with its optional 4 wheel drive and automatic transmission. A five speed transmission will be available later this year for the Sport Trac.

Surprisingly, despite the weight, the Sport Trac averaged 18.4 mpg during a 200 mile stretch of combined highway and surface street driving.

For some off-road driving we took Ford's "No Boundaries" theme to heart and headed to Hollister Hills state vehicular recreation area with the Sport Trac.

Hollister Hills is located about an hour south of San Jose and its 800 acre 'Upper Ranch' contains over 20 miles worth of 4-wheel drive trails. Trail navigation ranges from easy green markers all the way up to the uber-difficult triple black diamond for all but the heartiest 4x4s. We stuck to the easy 'green' and moderate 'blue' trails with the Sport Trac.

While the truck operated well on most sections of the trails, the driver and spotters had to compensate at times for the Sport Trac's limited approach and departure angles and with only 8-inches of ground clearance, and a foot longer than a regular Explorer, the Sport Trac doesn't make for an ideal off-road companion on steep or deeply rutted trails. There were many times we were thankful our truck did not come with the optional step-bars which further decrease ground clearance on the sides.

Ford's engineers have done an admirable job beefing up the Sport Trac's IFS and rear leaf spring suspension and extensive undercarriage shielding adds to off-road security.

With its 3.73:1 drive ratio and smooth five speed transmission the Sport Trac didn't lose many rpm's between shifts on the trails in the first three gears.

For more than the occasional off-road excursion we would highly recommend stepping up from the standard P235/75R-15 Firestone all-terrain OWL tires on our test truck to the more aggressive optional P255/70R-16 Firestone all-terrain OWLs.

Summing It Up

Without doubt, of all the four door compact pickup trucks PUTC has tested to date, the Explorer Sport Trac is the most refined crossover vehicle on the road today.

While the Sport Trac's 4-wheel drive off-road characteristics leave something to be desired, it's clear that Ford's targeted SUV-owning consumers, of whom 95% stick to the paved roads, will appreciate the extra utility pickup truck owner have known all along.


2001 Explorer Sport Trac


Model tested:
4 Wheel Drive V6


front-engine, part-time four-wheel drive

4.0-liter SOHC V-6

205 @ 5250 RPM

240ft-lb. @ 3750 RPM

EPA fuel economy:
15/19 mpg city/hwy as tested

16/20 mpg city/hwy, 4x2 model

Ford 5R55E electronically controlled five-speed automatic with overdrive

A five-speed manual transmission will be offered in spring 2000

Seating capacity:
5 Adults

Driver and Passenger Side Airbags; Child safety seat tether anchors at all three locations in the rear seat


Overall Length:

Overall Width:

Overall Height:

Suspension, f/r:
Front: Independent short- and long-arm type, torsion bar

Rear: Two-stage variable-rate leaf springs

P235/75R-15 Firestone all-terrain OWL (Std. on 4x4)

Brakes, front/rear:

Fuel tank:
capacity 20.5 gal

Towing Capacity:
5,040 lbs. (4x4 automatic)

Load Capacity:
1,180 (4x4) - 1,460 (with optional payload package)

Basic Warranty 3 years/36,000 Miles

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.

N/A: Information not available or not applicable.

Manufacturer Info Sources 1-800-392-FORD

Four Wheel Driving Tips encourages those truck owners who four wheel drive to follow the guidelines set by "Tread Lightly!®"

Tread Lightly!® offers the following tips for off-road recreation:

Obtain a map of the area you wish to explore and determine which areas are open for use.

Contact the land manager for area restrictions and if crossing private property, be sure to ask permission from the land owner.

Check the weather forecast.

Travel with a group of two or more vehicles.

Buckle up for safety.

Drinking and driving don't mix

Rules and Courtesies:
Be considerate of others on the road or trail.

Drive only where permitted.

Leave gates as you find them.

Yield the right of way to bikes, horses and hikers.

Pack out what you pack in.

The Environment:
Stay on designated road and trails or other areas open for use.

Avoid "spooking" livestock you encounter.

Cross streams at fording points only.

Remember, designated wilderness areas are reserved for the most primitive outdoor adventure.

Negotiating Terrain:
Travel straight up or down a hill or grade.

Cross obstacles at an angle, one wheel at a time.

Don't straddle large rocks.

Avoid mud if you can while remaining on the road or trail.

Turn the steering wheel rapidly from side-to-side if you sense a loss of traction.

Turn into ravines or large depression at about a 45-degree angle.

Straddle ruts, even if they are wider than your vehicle. This will keep your vehicle level.

Cross streams slowly, at a 90-degree angle to the stream.

Driving Tips:
Keep your thumbs on top of the steering wheel, to prevent a sprained or broken thumb if the wheel suddenly snaps.

Lower the tire pressure to where you see a bulge in your tire to give you better traction and provide for a smoother ride.

Avoid riding the brakes and clutch which can lead to brake failure.

For more information please visit the Tread Lightly!® web site.